Child Marriage in Humanitarian Crises: Girls and Parents Speak Out on Risk and Protective Factors, Decision-Making, and Solutions


Child marriage cover image final“Child Marriage in Humanitarian Crises: Girls and Parents Speak Out on Risk and Protective Factors, Decision-Making, and Solutions”  is produced by UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, in partnership with Save the Children and Plan International. The report, written by Julie Freccero and Audrey Taylor presents the findings of a study undertaken to provide humanitarian practitioners with the first-of-its-kind, youth-centered guidance on how to prevent and respond to child marriage in displacement settings. Additionally, a special report examines the impacts of COVID-19 on adolescent girls and marriage decision-making

The study, which engaged 280 girls ages 14-17 and 67 parents and caregivers, used innovative methods, in addition to interviews, in order to give girls more ownership over the research and provide them with a variety of creative ways to express themselves and their opinions, thoughts, and ideas. These included cutting and pasting flower maps, creating collages and drawings, and having musical-chairs style group discussions groups. Questions explored what puts girls at risk of child marriage, what protects them from it, how decisions around child marriage are made, and what NGOs can do to help prevent child marriages in their communities.

The study highlights six key findings, among others:

  1. Addressing violence within the home is as important to addressing child marriage as violence outside the home. Programming should work to address child mistreatment, neglect, child abuse and other forms of violence, and heavy domestic workloads by educating caregivers on positive, engaged parenting and husbands on supportive partnership.
  2. Peer influence is just as important in marriage decision-making and psychosocial health for displaced girls as for those at home. Practitioners should work to counteract negative peer pressure wherever possible and incorporate opportunities for positive peer pressure in programming, for example, by providing peer-to-peer counseling opportunities or offering social opportunities for married girls. 
  3. Girls often play a role in marriage decision-making. While many girls have little to no say in marriage decision-making, many have a significant say in the final decision over whom and when to marry, including some who have full autonomy. Practitioners should gain a clear understanding of the range of girls’ agency represented in their communities and design interventions that support girls in these decisions and create an enabling environment for girls to delay marriage.
  4. Girls’ education is as critical as ever in preventing and responding to child marriage. While most girls in formalized displacement contexts have access to primary and secondary schools, girls often face a number of financial and practical barriers to accessing them, including school fees, lack of pads and sanitary products, long distances to schools, and discrimination against married or pregnant girls. Practitioners should prioritize doing whatever it takes to keep girls in school for as long as possible.
  5. Displaced communities still want sensitization and awareness-raising on child marriage. While ensuring basic needs are met is certainly the highest priority in the acute stages of an emergency, once a situation stabilizes, community members feel that sensitization efforts and programming to change social norms around marriage are critical. Displacement, and the upheaval of traditional family and community structures, provides the humanitarian community with a unique opportunity to help shift and redefine harmful marriage and gender norms.
  6. Financial support is a crucial component of child marriage programming. In particular, cash assistance to adolescent girls or their caregivers helps to relieve extreme financial hardship, offset financial incentives for child marriage, and enable them to provide for their children’s basic needs – all major contributors to child marriage rates in displacement contexts.
Julie Freccero
Audrey Taylor
Publication date: 
May 17, 2021
Publication type: